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Edward Snowden: Leaked Classified Information from the NSA

Edward Snowden: Leaked Classified Information from the NSA

 By Charles Joseph | Cybersecurity Researcher
 Published on July 30th, 2023
This post was updated on November 25th, 2023

Edward Snowden is a former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor who became widely known after leaking thousands of classified documents to the press in 2013. The documents exposed extensive domestic and international surveillance operations carried out by the NSA. Born on June 21, 1983, in North Carolina, Snowden was a computer professional who spent his career working for various government agencies. His revelations about the extent of NSA’s data collection led to a global debate about privacy, surveillance, and the role of intelligence agencies. He has been living in Russia since to avoid prosecution in the United States on charges under the Espionage Act. His story became the subject of numerous books and movies, making him a highly controversial figure.

1. Snowden’s Early Life and Career

Edward Joseph Snowden was born on June 21, 1983, in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. His family had a history of working in federal service; his father was a coast guard, and his mother worked for the U.S. District Court.

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Snowden’s interest in computers developed early. After dropping out from high school due to illness, he completed his education through community college while simultaneously gaining certification skills, like in Microsoft systems and programming. Over time, these led him to a job as a security guard at an NSA facility at the University of Maryland.

In 2006, Snowden went on to work for the CIA in the technical services and information technology section. His impressive performance led him to foreign assignments, like in Geneva, under diplomatic cover. However, he left the CIA in 2009 and began working with private contractors, reaching a point where he had access to almost every secret NSA data.

2. Snowden’s NSA Document Leak

Edward Snowden’s name became synonymous with whistleblower in 2013 when he started leaking top-secret documents from the NSA, revealing the agency’s far-reaching surveillance programs. Disillusioned by what he saw as a growing intrusion on individual privacy, Snowden started collecting material covertly over many months.

In May 2013, he shared thousands of classified documents with several journalists, including Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. These revealed that the NSA and its international partners were intercepting large quantities of internet and telephone data, including certain forms of domestic surveillance. The information leaked by Snowden showed the extent to which the NSA could pry into people’s lives using digital technologies.

These disclosures sparked a global debate on privacy rights and the depth of government surveillance. Snowden’s leaks forced the US government and its allies to account for their actions, resulted in several lawsuits and triggered initiatives to reform surveillance laws.

3. Snowden’s Life in Exile

After leaking the classified NSA documents, Edward Snowden fled to Hong Kong and later Russia to evade capture and prosecution by the U.S. government. The U.S. has charged Snowden under the Espionage Act, which could lead to a long prison sentence. Russia granted him temporary asylum, which has been extended several times, allowing him to live a somewhat normal life.

Despite living in exile, Snowden hasn’t lived a life in the shadows. He continues to engage with the world through speaking engagements, often appearing on screens in conference halls and auditoriums around the world. He remains an advocate for privacy rights and internet freedom, critiquing surveillance policies and offering commentary on related news.

In 2019, Snowden published a memoir entitled “Permanent Record”, detailing his life, his decision to leak the NSA documents, and his views on the worldwide surveillance system. His story has been the subject of several films and books, keeping his name and his cause alive in public consciousness. Snowden remains a controversial figure, lauded as a whistleblower and a hero by some, while others condemn him as a traitor.


Edward Snowden is a pivotal figure in discussions about privacy, surveillance, and government transparency in the digital age. His leaks exposed extensive state surveillance practices, triggered global debates, and led him to a life of exile, marking him as one of the most influential whistleblowers of the 21st century.

Key Takeaways

  • Edward Snowden was a former NSA contractor who leaked thousands of classified documents, revealing large-scale privacy intrusions by state agencies.
  • He started his career in the CIA before moving onto private contractors, where he had access to vast amounts of secret NSA data.
  • Snowden released this information to the press which incited a global debate about privacy and surveillance.
  • Post-leak, Snowden has been living in Russia to avoid being prosecuted under the U.S. Espionage Act.
  • Despite his exile, Snowden continues to be an advocate for privacy rights and internet freedom.

Related Questions

1. What was Snowden’s job at the NSA?

Snowden was a systems administrator for the NSA, a role that gave him access to many of the agency’s most sensitive secrets.

2. How did Snowden release the classified documents?

Snowden released the classified documents by passing them onto journalists from The Guardian and The Washington Post while he was in Hong Kong.

3. What kinds of surveillance programs did Snowden’s leaks reveal?

Snowden’s leaks revealed extensive global and domestic surveillance programs, including the collection of Americans’ phone records and the interception of internet communications.

4. What has been the global reaction to Snowden’s leaks?

The global reaction has been mixed with some hailing Snowden as a hero and whistleblower, while others see him as a traitor for revealing state secrets. It has sparked worldwide debates about privacy, state surveillance, and the balance between national security and individual rights.

5. How has Snowden’s life been influenced since the leaks?

Since the leaks, Snowden has been living in exile in Russia to avoid prosecution by the U.S. government. Despite this, he remains an advocate for privacy and internet freedom and continues to give speeches and presentations around the world.

"Amateurs hack systems, professionals hack people."
-- Bruce Schneier, a renown computer security professional
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